Comments on my HP IPAQ hw6915 Mobile Messenger

Background

I used to walk around with two electronic lumps in my pocket - a basic mobile phone and a Palm Tungsten T2 PDA. This was OK, except my pockets tend to have holes in them and occasionally my phone would fall out and skid across the pavement. Since I don't like sewing or buying trousers, the solution was simple - replace the phone/PDA with a single do-everything PDA. In addition, I got caught in a thunderstorm and my Palm got soaking wet and refused to sync with my PC.

I wanted one machine to replace my phone/PDA functionality:

In addition I was quite tempted by a device with the following:

What I got...

So - I got a HP IPAQ hw6915 Mobile Messenger, running Windows Mobile 5.0 . I ticks the boxes for just about everything I wanted (or so I thought). I also got the TomTom Western Europe maps which sit on a 1GB Mini-SD card, and a car cradle/charger.

Here are the basic specs:

And it comes with:

How was it?

It was all OK at first ... .... ... ... ... and then it started to drive me mad!

After a while I started making a list of all the "annoyances" - some major and some minor, some bugs and some just missing features etc. The problem is that almost whenever I use/access it there's something that doesn't quite work right/intuitively. If you have solutions/workarounds for these problems, please let me know!

1 Problem Workaround
1 Response to navigating Windows Mobile (including answering phone calls etc) is often terrible slow, even though individual programs appear to be OK. Quickly scrolling through the calendar day by day looking for events often makes you miss them because when there is an even on a day, then it takes so long to display that day you skip over it! My Palm (several years old) was faster at these basic things.
2 Sometimes the device seems to hang for short periods (maybe less than one second). Typing during this time results in the keypresses sometimes getting lost, not buffered.
3 The default colour scheme (white on blue) isn't great in terms of contrast (a problem outside, especially with the flip-lid down). The built-in alternative (white on red background) is even worse. I generated my own theme on my PC (see below), but why on earth is this not configurable on the device?!
4 The free Microsoft theme editor doesn't seem to work properly with this device - for me it would result in the start menu being white text on a white background. I used ThemeGeneratorCE to create a reasonable theme - but even then the appearance on the device is substantially different to in the editor (just happens to be OK!).
5 The first time I set the alarm clock it didn't go off. Subsequently it did - correctly at 8am on a Saturday (the device has three alarms that can be set to go off on different groups of days). Unfortunately, it continued to go off at 8am on subsequent Saturdays even though it was no longer set! A little while later I tried to use it again, and this time when it went off:
  • there was no way to turn it off (it fires, then waits, then fires again, then waits a bit longer, then fires etc until giving up eventually),
  • it would go off immediately after soft-resetting the device
  • it broke calendar notifications
The only "solution" to this was a hard-reset (which was far form pain-free). This alarm problem happens for other people too. Consequently the built-in alarm is a liability, and I am sure if I try to use it again it would result in another hard-reset being required.
6 Once I got the text message inbox saying there were 99999 new messages (there were not). Only happened once.
7 The tinted flip cover looks a bit cool. However, being tinted means that
  • The contrast is reduced, meaning that the screen is practically impossible to read in bright sunlight. With the cover up, it's still hard to read, but a lot better. Lifting the cover just to read the screen is a real pain.
  • The display is probably the most power-hungry part of the device - so what madness is it to put a tinted cover in front of it?!?!
A clear cover would have been far better.
8 I've yet to find a free countdown timer that actually works and is practical (e.g. wakes up the device if the countdown is long enough to let/need it to go into standby mode).
9 The screen is 240x240 which is really quite low-resolution.
10 The fields in the contact/calender programs are really complicated, containing all sorts of fields that are only extremely rarely going to be used (how many people have a specific car telephone number?!). This is such a pain when somebody is trying to tell you how to get hold of them. A way to customise this (I have a feeling there may be a hacky way) and toggle the concise/full list of fields would be so useful.
11 The battery life is pretty bad. My phone used to keep its charge for a week, and my Palm PDA for many weeks. With the same amount of combined use, the iPAQ needs charging every other day.
12 The default alarm sound is pathetic, and generally the vibrate is very easy to miss.
13 Additional applications seem to sometimes be absolutely massive - I think Skype and Adobe Acrobat are both approx 7MB. Is this laziness on the part of the developers, or is it encouraged by Windows Mobile design?
14 Initially the camera image quality was terrible full resolution (1024x768) - worse (blurry) than at 640x480. For some reason it seemed better after I tried it following a hard-reset.
15 Certain things are synchronised with the computer - SMS messages, POP3 emails etc. I'm not sure where they're stored on the device, and if it's possible to archive them by hand. Anyway - there's lack of integration between the phone and PDA functionality here.
16 There seems to be quite a lot of "bloat" in the installation. For example, Powerpoint is totally unnecessary for me, yet the executable alone is 2.3MB (remember there's not much memory to play with!)
17 The use of space on the "today" screen is really quite inefficient - generally everything useful does not fit on the screen (see photos below).
18 Sometimes the today notification area space doesn't get freed when a program using it gets stopped. OK after soft reset
19 Applications don't actually exit when you think you've quite them, resulting in running out of memory when things are tight. Soft reset or manually kill the process
20 The only built in way of recording audio is in the notes application. However, I can't see anyway of extracting the audio after syncing to the PC - Outlook's notes are just so primitive! I had to resort to playing the audio in notes on the PC, and recording in a separate program using a loopback.
21 The device refused to open a 6MB Notes file for no good reason. It had just managed to save it, and it opened OK on the PC.
22 Audio recording in notes stops when the device powers off - typically after a couple of minutes (my Palm would continue to record). Disable auto power off before recording
23 Audio stored in notes is obviously going to cost memory. It would be nice to keep some notes on the PC and not sync them to the device, but that's not possible (as far as I can tell).
24 When I originally set up the the calendar with birthdays etc I ended up with a lot of duplicate events being created (not by me!!) relating to birthdays. I never really got to the bottom of it, but it was annoying!).
25 After a hard reset MS Active Sync only restores some application data (no SMS/POP3 msgs, and no settings. This was all a big pain to restore.
26 It sometimes goes "event mad" - seemingly thinking that you're pressing a key when you're not. One time it stopped doing this for some reason - another I needed to soft-reset. In some cases I imagine this could lose a lot of data.
27 Starting TomTom frequently fails and hangs for long periods (5-10 minutes or more) whilst trying to connect to the GPS device (not on trying to find a GPS signal - where slowness, though not a hang, would be acceptable).
28 Synchronisation sometimes comes up with bogus conflicts.
29 Synchronisation defaults to replacing data on the device with what's on the PC, sometimes with no prompting. Together with bogus conflicts, this lost me data.
30 The Mini-SD memory card auto-runs on boot and insertion. I keep my TomTom card in the device, and this can be really annoying!
31 It is not always possible to navigate without touching the screen, even in Windows Mobile programs e.g. playing/making an audio recording in notes, jumping to a specific date in calendar. Other times it is just awkward to do things with the keyboard (changing folder in messaging) - even though it should be easy.
32 I've yet to find a way to select text regions with just the keyboard.
33 There's no password security on individual items (unlike with the Palm).
34 The volume slider is loose and rattles
35 You need to remove the battery to access the SIM card - and consequently it needs to boot.
36 Booting is quite slow (40 seconds). If you have the TomTom card in then that will auto-run, and it takes an additional 30 seconds to let the run enough to let you quit!!
37 Bogus/transient notifications under some situations (e.g. disconnect from PC).
38 The device appears to be capable of recording in stereo, but how? Is the headphone socket also a mic socket?
39 There is no standard sized headphone socket.
40 There is no USB socket - using it as a USB host could be useful sometimes.
41 Whilst the the development libraries needed to write applications for the device are free, they're limited to working only with the full version of MS Visual Studio (very expensive). Not being able to work around the limitations by writing my own software (and sharing it for free) for it is very frustrating.
42 Decreasing the text size in the "screen settings" with the idea of increasing the info on the today screen barely affects it - because the icons have a fixed size, some entries don't take any notice of it, and the start/status area ignore it too.

Here is the effect of the cover on the display with the default, my white-on-black, and my black-on-white schemes. The bottom row has the cover in place. Each picture uses the same exposure etc. Click for a larger image.

You can download my two themes: White on Black and Black on White. To install them:

  1. Connect your device to your PC with MS ActiveSync
  2. Click on Explore in ActiveSync
  3. Navigate to My Windows Mobile-Based Device -> Windows
  4. Copy the theme file into that directory
  5. Wait for ActiveSync to sync
  6. On the device, access Settings->Today
  7. The new theme should be there

It seems that the top/bottom coloured strips don't get set properly - I get the nice bronze colour only after going to my theme after the Guava Bubbles (strange, because this colour isn't used in that theme!!).

Conclusion

I wouldn't buy this device again, nor would I recommend it to anybody I liked, even though it's not quite bad enough to make me replace it. It does practically everything... yet it does almost everything in a way that is buggy or frustrating. Well, it runs a version of Windows, so maybe that shouldn't be such a surprise.


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